Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole

...then I fell off of the face of the earth and disappeared down a rabbit-hole for three months... 

...The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well....Down, down, down...

...and all around me was a blur.  One day, one week, one month, all one muddled lapse of time filled with little sense and less reason, all for a muddled purpose...

...here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.  

Twice as fast as that.   

The end.  

It has been one year.  One year since we left an established life and complicated our already complicated life in search of something. I still don't know exactly what I'm searching for.  It has felt like a Wonderland search for madness.  And time has moved in Wonderland speed.  Months have passed and yet I'm sure that I might at any minute wake up under a tree from a lovely nap having found that no time has passed at all.  

In one sense, I have done exactly what I came here to do.  I have made connections and gained experiences.  I have grown as an artist and a writer.  I have been pushed and pulled into something new.  As my feet start to search for solid ground, I can look back up the rabbit-hole and see that I have come a very long way toward something.    

In another sense, I feel as if I have lost a year of relationships.  I feel alone. I severely underestimated the value of community.  I need Mad Hatter tea parties and coffee with friends.  For this reason, I would pinch myself and wake-up, back where I was a year ago, if I could. 

Then again, I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.   

So here we are.  School is coming to an end.  I have done what I came here to do.  And, the question that everyone wants answered is, what now?  I wish that I knew.  I am just moving forward.  At a slightly altered pace.  Racing toward an ill-defined end is exhausting.  And I have missed far too much beauty as I've run twice as fast as I can possibly run just to to go somewhere that I can't even see.  Yet a path must be chosen.  Decisions must be made.  We can't stay exactly here.  This exact spot fits exactly none of us.  So what now?    

Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.  
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat. 
'I don't know," Alice answered.  
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.' 

*Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Barn Therapy

I woke up cranky, for no reason.  And anxious too.  She called from a sleepover, crying, wanting to come home.  We sat around talking about going to the park for an hour.  I scheduled an impromptu riding lesson, instead.  We all stayed to watch, and breathe.  The little one played with the barn cat.  We talked about getting a kitten.  I think our cat might be lonely.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sicily La Sweet's Lalaloopsy Party!

My girl loves Lalaloopsy!  Her bedroom has been taken over by these quirky little dolls and their fun pets and accessories.  Ok, if I'm honest, our entire house if overflowing with Lalaloopsy love.  So the theme for this year's birthday party has been decided since the day after last year's birthday party.  (Merida still has a strong presence around here, too, in case you were wondering.  My girl is loyal to her collections!)

Lalaloopsy may be the easiest party to decorate for.  Lalaloopsy is built around sewing and repurposing.  So that's how I decorated.  I gathered thread and yarn and old flower pots and bowls.  And, of course, I brought in all of the birthday girl's Lalaloopsy collection to finish it all off.

For treats I played with the names of some of the Lalaloopsy friends.  We had Mango's Tiki Punch, Dot's Garden of Stars, Bubble Smack n Pop's gumballs, a Lala-Oopsy mini fairy cake, Crumb Sugar Cookie's button cookies, Lalaloopsy yarn, and Cloud E Sky's ferris wheel in the clouds cake.  

As guests arrived they were welcomed with coloring sheets and treat bag decorating.  Everyone was asked to guess how many buttons were in Harmony B. Sharp's jar of buttons.  And, of course, the doll house provided entertainment for all ages.  

Since Lalaloopsies are "sewn" together, I knew I wanted to make a sewing craft.  We made Crumb Sugar Cookie's pet mouse.  To prep the craft I cut out the shapes and added eyes ahead of time.  Since we had a wide range of ages, I also punched holes along the felt to make it easy for our younger guests to follow along.  The finished mice were so cute and everyone had so much fun making them!  

Every year my kids get their own personal birthday cake before we share a bigger cake with everyone else.  It's a treat they look forward to and guard from their siblings for the rest of their birthday week!  Sicily's personal cake was topped with two new Lala-Oopsy mini fairies.  She also got a few new Lalaloopsy friends as gifts.  (We're going to have to build them their own room soon!)  

At the end of the party we gathered on the couch with popcorn and pretzels to watch "Lala-Oopsy: A Sew Magical Tale".  It was the perfect way to end a great party.  The birthday girl had "sew" much fun!  And really does anything else matter.  I love this girl and her lalaloopsy loving spirit.  Happy Birthday Sicily La Sweet!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy Birthday Sicily

Today is my littlest sprite's birthday.  She's nine.  She's a mess.  I started calling them all sprites when she was about two.  She brings out a playful sparkle in everyone.  She's a mischievous mystery.  She's incredibly fun yet sensitive to a fault.  She's strong and competitive yet affectionate and tender.  No one can hold back a giggle when she really starts to laugh.  It's a belly laugh that fills her whole face.  She cries big crocodile tears when she's wounded.  She's graceful on her toes.  She'll take hit after hit after hit but, after a few from you, she'll knock you out so fast you won't know what happened.  She moves fast on feet or wheels, as if she has wings that no one can see.  Her favorite place in the world is cuddled into my shoulder.  She collects little, shiny things.  And lalaloopsies.  I think she loves those funny little dolls because they are put together with mismatched patterns and disproportionate parts.  She loves things that seem just a little bit broken but are still in need of a good home. She believes in fairy tales and the great guardians of childhood. She fills multiple journals a year with drawings and stories and taped down feathers and leaves and pressed flowers.  She's a sprite.  A genuine sprite of faery folklore. She can't be pinned down and she'll love and live where she chooses.  Like I said, she's a mess.  And I love her for it.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Riz au Lait and Winter

The weather outside is frightful, as the song goes.  It's down right frigid with the wind chill reaching below zero.  Icy patches glitter in the sun but refuse to melt.  The leftover snow has frozen into a white, crisp sheet.  This morning was supposed to mark the end of winter break for the sprites, but schools are closed for the next few days as we wait for the earth to warm up a bit.  I, on the other hand, had to return to reality.  University campuses rarely close for changes in the weather.  So I bundled up to leave our lovely little holiday cocoon.  My cheeks felt the sting of the wind instantly. Within a few minutes of scraping ice off of the car my fingers were hurting through my gloves.  But the cold air felt amazing in my lungs.  I took deep breaths.  Personally, I love the cold.  I feel most alive when its freezing outside.  I would trade a snowy winter day for a steamy day in the summer every time.  

I got to campus safely, despite the ice.  Walking to class was a challenge.  I only slipped once, and recovered gracefully.  Well, as gracefully as one can when falling on ice.  I started the day full of optimism.  I had the cold to push me on and the knowledge that this is my last spring semester of school.  I'm so close, I can see it.  All I have to do is survive until August and I'll finally graduate.  And it only took me ten years longer than my peers.   Not that I'm that easily distracted.  It's just that I managed to squeeze in a lot of life between starting and finishing.   The one thing standing in my way at the moment:  French.  My fourth and final semester of french.  Three semesters and still, je ne sais pas le francais bien.   It's the class I'm fearing the most right now so, of course, it's the class I began my semester with.  

We began class by interviewing a classmate and then presenting them to everyone else.  After we got through the trivial things like names, majors, and hometowns, my partner told me in halting french that she had spent her break in France.  OK, I'm jealous.  Very jealous.  She stayed with family friends and while there she fell in love with something the hostess made.  Riz au lait.  With my minimal french, I mentally translated that to rice in milk and thought, really?  With all of the other french desserts I know of, you fell in love with rice in milk.  Then she started to describe it and I thought, she means rice pudding.  When I got home, I decided to look it up.  It is, in fact, rice pudding.  Now, I've had rice pudding and it's not particularly life changing.  Maybe there's something else to the way the French make it?  Based on the recipes I looked at, it seems riz au lait is a little sweeter and thicker, more like a custard, than what I've always known as rice pudding.  But then again, looking at a bunch of different recipes, I began to consider that maybe I've just had bad rice pudding.  

Luckily, I made way too much rice for last night's dinner.  So I decided to experiment.  I didn't like any one recipe that I found so I combined a few elements from various recipes for riz au lait specifically.   And what I got was something wonderful.  It was creamy and sweet.  The rice melted into a lovely custard.   We all agreed that it was a wonderful, warm desert for a winter's night.  I will definitely be making this again.  Especially if the weather stays wonderfully cold.  I know everyone else is eager for the return of warmth, but the cold doesn't bother me, so I say let it snow.    

Riz au Lait

2 cups of cooked white rice
1 1/2 cups of almond milk
1/4 -1/3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean split open, if you have it)
cinnamon for sprinkling 

Combine rice, almond milk, sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla on the stove top.  Cook on low heat, stirring often to prevent sticking, for 30-35 minutes, or until thick and creamy.  The rice should be soft, almost melting, not al dente, and the pudding should be neither runny nor dry.  Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Best eaten warm, but it does make a lovely cold late night snack. Optional:  a handful of raisins could be added while cooking.  Unless your children, like mine, happen to think raisins should never be mixed into anything but rather eaten alone.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Weekends Are For...

teaching small hands to make pastry,

 beautiful, earthy meals,

and reading in cozy corners.

Today as we wait out this winter storm, I'm reminded that we are so very blessed.  We are warm, well fed, and content here in our cozy little apartment.  As the temperatures plummet to below freezing, I'm thinking about others who can't say that and praying for their well-being.  I'm also praying for my own sprites.  May they always know warmth, in home and heart. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Movie Time Sister Snuggling

This Moment

A single photo -no words- capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor, and remember.

*inspired by SouleMama

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Presence and Happiness in the New Year

Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, 
they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness 
- Albert Camus

All true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order
- Benjamin Franklin

These two quotes may seem odd ones to begin a post about the new year.  But they actually sum up the things I've been thinking about as this old year has come to a close.  Happiness and the search for.  Or rather, how to be.  And not just be happy.  But how to just BE.  Be content.  Be secure. Be present.  
The search for happiness is something that I have struggled with in recent years.  Being a wife, mother, and homemaker defined my early adult life.  I had found my place in that world.  I knew who I was.  And I was happy in that life.  I've found that as I rebuild who I am as a single, working mother, I'm struggling to find my happy.  And I think it has a lot to do with Benjamin Franklin.

I've tried to order something beautiful out of the chaos.  All along forgetting that there is beauty in the chaos.  Camus reminds us that order, when adhered to blindly and rigidly, can consume our fragile chance for happiness.    In other words, you can't order happiness.  You can't build a happy life.  Happiness is found within ourselves.  At the heart of the matter.

All of that said, Benjamin isn't completely wrong either.  While you can't let your happiness lie in the hands of the conditions of your life, you certainly shouldn't live a life that isn't centered around the things that make you happy.

I think I've forgotten all of that.

When I started to rebuild my life after my heart was broken, I cast aside parts of myself that made me truly happy.  As if I couldn't be who I was before, simply because someone else had changed the rules. Just go back three years on this blog and you will see what I mean.  Where are the handmade and local living posts?  Where are the traditions and the quiet moments?   This blog feels like a chore sometimes because I'm a little lost without certain parts of who I was.  Sometimes I throw a wordless picture out because it's all I have to give.  Those are the moments that I realize that I'm not as present in our daily life as I should and want to be.  I've lost my center.  I've lost some of the parts of myself that order my happiness. Those are the things that I've felt the conditions of my current life won't allow.  Those are the things I'm taking back.

This year, we made a big move.  It was a risk.  Six months later, it's still a risk that I'm sorting through.   This year, we let some things go.  And sometimes you have to let things go to know how much those things mean to you.  Like community.  We are a family that centers itself on community.  It's vital.  And we miss that deeply.  This year, we grew a little more into who we are as individuals.  The boy is a runner.  He is loyal and strong.  The oldest girl needs quite time in nature if she's going to shine on her stage.  That is her center.  She found that on a horse.   The youngest one is a competitor.  She is also timid and loving.  They are all so different and all so beautiful.  

As for me, I was reminded that I am an artist, visual and written.  I was reminded that it's OK to wander.  Because not all who wander are lost.  I was reminded that it's OK, and good even, to make beautiful things, even if no one else cares.  I was reminded that I am allowed to be both the woman I was before and the woman I have become.  Most importantly, those three beautiful sprites reminded me, in their growing, that presence today is all I can give them for tomorrow.  Presence is what they will carry with them in their memories and their hearts.  So in planning our future, I must guard our today.

This coming year, I'm taking back some parts of myself that have been collecting dust on the shelf.  I'm returning to a handmade life.  My hands need to create.  I'm returning to clean eating, living locally, and simplicity.   I'm continuing the expectation that my art and my writing matter, if only to myself.  I'm continuing the traditions of our home, both new ones that we've come to love, and old ones that have been forgotten.  And finally, I'm returning to quiet moments here in this space.  Moments that celebrate family and time together.  Muddled reflections and poetry.  Rain and homemaking.  I want to be more present in our daily.  The small daily moments that make us.

This is going to be a big year.  It's a year that holds change.  I can feel it in my fingertips.  I honestly don't know where we will be at the end of this year.  I don't think I've ever started a year like that.  Change has always caught me just a little off guard.  But this year, on day one, I can feel it coming.  I can feel the leaves rustling in my soul.  A gentle breeze is stirring and the wonder of an open heart is calling.  This year could take us anywhere.  Can you feel it?  It's exciting.

Let's begin.